Learn To Surf Uncertainty

Surf Uncertainty 1

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Experience The Miracle

From the archives: Pidgeon Pier. This painting is about paying attention

From the archives: Pidgeon Pier. This painting is about paying attention

“It has become my view–my faith–that all elements of nature have that power to produce peace. It is surely why so many are drawn away from their urban lives and back to natural places. But those places need not be grand scenic vistas. The same peace can be found in the dandelion growing in the nearest vacant city lot.

It is, in the end, a choice either to “shut up and listen” to these sources of strength–no matter how great or humble or where we encounter them–or to hurry on by.”

~Master Jim Marsh in a comment about my post, Sit By The River

There was a cool breeze off the lake this morning that slowed the mounting humidity. We were a mile into our usual morning walk, rounding the path to the rocky lakeshore, when we entered the storm of dragonflies. There were hundreds of them, hovering just above our heads, occupying a narrow band that stretched as far as the eye could see!

I gasped and stopped! Never in my life had I seen so many dragonflies. Kerri said, “They come out when the weather has been hot and without rain.” Before continuing on our way, we stood for a few moments appreciating the hovering, the methodical zigging-and-zagging. Until our path deviated from the coast, they were with us, green and purple spirits, riding the air-line where earth meets water. For me it was pure magic.

Many years ago, as a way of ending our relationship, a woman told me that it was too hard to be with a mystic. I’d never before (or since) thought of myself as a mystic so I looked it up to make sure I understood why a mystic might not be easy to live with:

Mystic (noun): a follower of mysticism.
Mysticism (noun):
1. Belief in intuitive spiritual revelation,
2. Spiritual system,
3. Confused and vague ideas.

I laughed aloud when I read the three definitions of mysticism; the third definition applied to the previous two! I left my dictionary with two beliefs:

  1. All human beings are mystics if they simply slow down and pay attention. There’s no trick to it. And, that was certainly the problem in my relationship: I have always liked walking slowly in a world drunk on racing to the next big thing. That is hard to live with!
  2. The line between a spiritual revelation, a cathartic experience, a scientific eureka, or an artistic visit from the muse, seems to me, to be semantic. In our age of the intellect we generally run from the word intuition unless we apply a label like “gut instinct” (transforming a feminine energy to a masculine gut) or “I just knew it!” (transforming the scary clarity of an intuitive feeling into a safe clarity of an intellectual experience). It’s all wordplay.

Hearts know. Thoughts babble. And the only way to sort it all out is to stand still, stop the babbling, and see the miracle.

Step Into The Unknown

Step Into Unknown with Sig

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Fall Into Your Imagination

Fall Into Your Imagination

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Bumble

photo-1I’m sitting on the deck sipping red wine. It is twilight. Jim is playing the mandolin (he is an extraordinary musician) and Kerri is playing her keyboard. They are rehearsing outside because it is too hot in the house. The breeze off the lake is a godsend. Dog-Dog does not know what to do with all the activity. He is running around and around; there is no sense to his crazy figure-eight patterns. I’ve learned his looping is actually Dog-Dog glee. He likes their music, too.

The fireflies are sparking. Kerri and Jim are working through a series of slow tunes for a performance this weekend and I am falling into their playing. I routinely tell them that they need to make an album together and they routinely smile and laugh at me. It is their laughter that comes through their playing and I love it. This world, I believe, like me, needs more laughter.

There is magic in a mandolin and I am suddenly reminded of my conversation with Arnie earlier today. We had a much needed phone conversation. Over the many years of our friendship Arnie has walked me through multiple mazes of my own construction. He has listened to more than one of my epic rants. He has a gentle way of asking just the right question to stop my rant in its tracks. I seek his counsel when I am lost. He somehow knows when I need an ear to bend or just a walk with a friend. His superhero name might be The Velvet Dope-Slap. I am grateful to be the dope to his slap.

During our conversation we bumbled into the topic of wisdom. I am now old enough to understand that bumbling is the only path to wisdom. No one seeking wisdom will ever find it. Seekers are notoriously serious. I have always been suspect of the dour saints that pock western sacred spaces. The Buddha laughs. Shiva dances amidst the destruction. There is wisdom in dancing, too.

Arnie and I agreed that wisdom only comes from repeated and dedicated folly. Sooner or later, if we are lucky, the mask of comedy breaks through the sad mask of tragedy; we learn to laugh at ourselves and our dedication to drama. It is through the laughter that wisdom finally reveals itself.

Kerri just gasped and stopped playing, “Oh my god! Look at the moon!”

Jim laughed at the interruption, and, pulling his glasses off his forehead, said, “Wait, I have to put my far-eyes on.”

 

Sit By The River

photoThe back deck of the Minturn Inn overlooks the Eagle River. We sit in the sun and are mesmerized by the sound of the rushing water. It is liquid peace. In this moment I believe that people seeking to develop a meditation practice should begin sitting by a river. The water easily carries away all thought and worry.

The river is a great giver of perspective, a great deliverer of presence.

I am struck by this power of the river – and it is a power. We easily grasp nature’s power when a tornado levels a town or an earthquake devastates a city but forget that there is a flip side, a quieter side to nature’s ominous power. There is a vast quiet. In our world peace seems nearly impossible to achieve yet in less than a minute, sitting by the river, I am steeped in peace. That is an awesome power!

I once read (somewhere) that we have a vibrant internal compass capable of ringing true from false, right from wrong. If we make a choice that is out of our integrity, the compass spins wildly out of control, setting off an unstoppable inner monologue, a great inner debate. If the choice is in alignment, the moment passes unnoticed. True north is known by the absence of spinning. Inner quiet is an affirmation. Nature – including our inner nature – doesn’t lie.

Sitting on the deck, breathing in the mist and peace of the rushing water, I know that what’s most important in this life, the real art, happens in the quiet spaces, the moments that thought cannot penetrate, the spaces that require no definition or justification. They are the moments ripe with gratitude. They are the moments dripping with appreciation. I know that all the debates and disagreements and defenses are paper tigers. I also know that this peace is not the province of the river. It is, in fact, available all the time. The river simply reminds me to hush up and listen.

Paddle On

photo-3We’d been out in the canoe for more than an hour. The morning was warm and the water was still. We hugged the shore, cruising the lily pads. Dan told us some of the lily pads were over 150 years old. I was amazed at their capacity to reach through time but also reach through long stems to the water’s surface to drink the sun.

The turtle emerged from nowhere. It appeared from the depths, through the lily pad stem forest, and rose to within inches of the surface. It was big for a lake turtle, perhaps the size of a dinner plate. I let my paddle trail in the water. It was so close I could have reached into the water and touched it. We glided forward and turned the canoe so Kerri might see it but the turtle had already disappeared.

the view from the canoe

the view from the canoe

Turtle is perhaps the oldest known symbol for the earth. In many traditions, turtle carries the world on her back; the earth is her shell. She is a great reminder to go slow and persevere, to live grounded amidst the chaos of life. She symbolizes patience and ease. I was struck by how similar are the symbols of turtle and lily pad. Peace. Ease. Both are extraordinary symbols of grounding or rooting. Both cross the boundary of elements: the turtle lives in water and land. The lily pad reaches through the water to find air and sun. Both inhabit the depths and reach to the surface.

It feels as if I came into this world with art already in me. From an early age I drew pictures, not because I wanted to but because I had to. Like the lily pad, I was reaching for something unknown. I drew the same images over and over again: a cabin in the woods, eyes, clowns. I wasn’t drawing to master the image, I was drawing and painting in order to reach beyond the image. There was something there, beyond, deep in the depths, a root, rich soil, the void. There was a force behind the image that pulled me. My artistry felt like a descent into the caves of the ancients, a search for sources mythological.

Sometime during these past few years, the direction of the pull reversed itself. Like Orpheus in the underworld, I turned around. I walked toward the surface. In essence, the pull to the depths became a reach to the light. The sun called. Balance, in this life, at long last necessitated light and warmth.

Tom once told me that inheriting his family’s ranch and subsequently finding a trunk hidden in the wall of the house containing his ancestors possessions served as an affirmation that he had finally come home. Sitting in the canoe, the turtle rising by my side, I felt the affirmation. I am now only inches from breaking the surface. I drink the light because I know the depths and am adept at walking in the dark unknown.

the first layer of  under-painting for the next piece

the first layer of under-painting for my next piece

I am working much slower now. I am in no hurry to get anywhere. And my art, my life, is the better for it.

 

 

 

Walk With Your Ally

another painting in the Yoga series

the latest painting in the Yoga series

David is among my chief muses. He was the first person I met in my spontaneous-no-plan-move-to-Seattle over 15 years ago. We sat next to each other at a conference and he asked me if I wanted to be in a play. When I said yes he said, “Great. Can you be at rehearsal tonight?” Like me, he is a painter as well as a theatre artist. He steps through life with his eyes firmly focused on the possibilities. He reminds me that obstacles are nothing more than interesting process steps. When I wander through museums or galleries David goes with me whether he is there or not. When I see a play that inspires me, I wish that he might see it, too, so we might talk about it.

Recently, he sent this quote: “My intention has been, often, to say what I had to say in a way that would exemplify it; that would, conceivably, permit the listener to experience what I had to say rather than just hear about it.” – John Cage, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists.

When I was in college studying acting I had a professor who would say, “You will always know a good play from a bad play because a bad play wants to tell you what happens. A good play wants to include you in what happens.” He also used this rule to define good acting from bad acting. His shorthand phrase was, “Show me, don’t tell me.” It is the artistic equivalent of, “Give a man a fish and he will have a meal; teach a man to fish and he will eat forever.” Art, regardless of the form it takes, is meant to teach people to fish.

Art is not a “thing,” it is a relationship. It is a dynamic orientation to life. It is an experience (not a possession). My interpretation of my professor’s rule goes something like this: a good play/performance/painting includes; a bad play/performance/painting excludes. Vital art reaches for others. Empty art rejects or attempts to elevate itself above others.

The best artists I know have learned to get out of their own way. They have essentially, let go of all investment in self-importance. They serve the art and, so, are not terribly invested in whether a critic or a friend likes or dislikes their work. They have grown beyond attempting to control the perceptions of others (control is an act of exclusion); they are attempting to reach the soul of the matter, touch the soul of the other.

finally finished: May You Be

finally finished: May You Be

It is also true that great artists are constantly learning. And, since growth is always in the direction of the unknown, it is terribly important to have allies to walk with you. Stepping into the unknown is best done in the company of others, those special few wanderers who you can turn to and say, “Whoa! Did you just see that?” David, who is always there with me, laughs in response to my awe, and says, “Tell me! What did you see?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JFGI!

I had to use this painting for this post. I call it Eve

I had to use this painting from the archive  for this post. I call it Eve

Notes at the crossroads of The New World Order:

1. Betsi was disappointed in the low attendance at church. She told us that everything had changed in the last decade. Churches that were once thriving were now struggling. It is a trend. It is happening everywhere. It’s true. A few months ago I saw the statistics of church membership in America and the numbers are plummeting.

“What changed,” I asked.

Without hesitation she said, “People don’t need God anymore. They think they know everything.”

I quipped, “Who needs God when you have Google?”

She laughed and said, “Right! JFGI!”

“What does that mean?”

She smiled, “Just f*cking Google it.”

It is probably true for believers and non-believers alike that God is slower than Google, especially if the notion of God is uncannily human, (i.e., a rule-maker, judgmental, angry one minute and loving the next, assigns ‘chosen’ status to one team but not the other, etc.). Such a god might easily be confused with a search engine or a legal system.

I thought, but did not say, perhaps people are looking for something that neither technology nor a search-engine-god can deliver. Perhaps they are looking for something less volatile. Information is readily available. So is judgment. Wisdom is a bit harder to come by.

2. After band rehearsal we went to a bar. Jim grew up Catholic and we were talking about the revolution of thought that Pope Francis is inspiring. Jim said, “I really like that guy!” Suddenly, he pulled out his phone. “I wonder if The Pope is on Facebook?” We laughed when he found and “liked” The Pope. Facebook showed us a gallery of others who’d “liked” The Pope. The top of the list was The Dali Llama. “I’m going to like him, too!” Jim cheered and added, “I wonder if he’ll like me back?” We laughed.

I remember when a photograph was absolute proof that something happened. I remember the day that a photographer showed me a new “software” (at the time I had to ask what that meant) that could alter a photograph. He showed me and erased someone from a shot. I remember wondering what would be the new standard of proof? Sitting at the bar the other night with Jim, nearly 30 years later, I finally received my answer: it doesn’t exist if it isn’t on Facebook.

This brought me to what will be my next late night bar conversation topic with Jim: When did all of life become marketing and data collection? Have you checked your “likes” lately?

This inspired a glance at the fast moving river that is Facebook. I read:

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

That raises an obvious question: Is hell an experience or a place? JFGI!

Wake Up To Your Dream

a detail of my latest painting

a detail of my latest painting

Oscar said, “I’m way too busy. I have too much to do.” He’s a junk guy, a scrapper and we’d just pulled a piano out of the back of his old truck.

“”That’s better than the reverse problem,” I said. “Too much time and nothing to do.”

Oscar smiled. “My grandfather always told me that sleepers wind up with nothing but dreams.” He added, “I’m trying to teach that to my son.” His son, a strapping young man, rolled his eyes.

It was a nice sentiment, a worthy lesson, and like all sticky-note wisdom, the flip side is usually also relevant. Sleepers wind up with nothing but dreams. People without dreams wind up walking through life asleep.

Once long ago I walked through a house with a realtor named Hans. The place was crammed with piles of stuff, stacks of books and mountains of magazines. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t wait to get outside. Standing in front yard, having escaped, I said, “I don’t know how people live like that.” Hans replied, “Everyone has their heaven. What looks like hell to you is heaven to them.”

Everyone has their heaven. Everyone has their hell. Isn’t it a good bit of sticky-note wisdom to remember that heaven does not look the same to all people? And, to some people, depending upon how present they are, heaven is here and now. The same sticky-note applies to hell in the here-and-now.

Flipping to the weather channel I found, instead of the weather, an episode of Why Planes Crash (answer: the weather!). A flight attendant who’d survived a crash said, “When the plane is going down, people get religion really fast.” I thought, I bet the opposite sticky-note is also true. Religion is rule bound and usually comes with an in-crowd, a right way, or a chosen people. When the plane is going down I’ll bet all the rules go out the window (so to speak), the divisions become meaningless, and what people get is how precious, unique, and vast is their life – and all of life, for that matter. They don’t get religion, they “get” life. Ric Elias was in the plane that landed on the Hudson River. For him, going down in the plane served as instant clarity. He left the plane knowing without doubt what mattered. He no longer needed to be right. He no longer had time for negative energy. He no longer had time to be too busy. He woke up to his dream.